This image of Christie Hoos’s daughter, Becca, was used without permission in a Spanish ad for prenatal genetic testing. (Photo: So Here’s Us)
A mother whose daughter’s image was stolen and put on an ad for genetic testing is outraged at the offensive use of the photo.
Christie Hoos, a Canadian mom whose daughter Becca has Down Syndrome, blogs about her family and sometimes, though infrequently, posts photos of her four kids online. But as she wrote in a recent blog post, “Once was all it took.”
Last week, one of Hoos’s readers reached out to tell her that a photo of Becca, which the reader recognized from the blog, was being used in a giant advertisement in Spain. The poster, which hung on the side of a building, was promoting a genetic test for Down Syndrome by the Swiss-based biomedical company Genoma. “On the front page of their website and a building sized banner in Spain: there’s her face, larger than life,” Hoos writes. “My daughter has been made the poster child for a prenatal testing kit called Tranquility. As if she were a cautionary tale: don’t let this happen to you.”
The photo, which Hoos describes as “a beautiful shot of her face — one of my [favorites],” was originally stolen by a free stock photo website, Hoos explained, and subsequently distributed to Genoma for their ad. Neither Hoos nor Genoma has named the stock image site.
In a letter posted on the company’s website, Genoma CEO Frederic Amar writes: “We downloaded this photo from an image bank website offering it in an apparent legal way for use [online]. We have seen this image displayed in a few other medical websites so nothing led us to believe that the parents had not given their permission. We repeatedly tried to contact [the] parents and are waiting [to establish] direct contact with them.” In the letter, Amar also says that the image of the “charming, smiling girl” was never meant to be displayed in Madrid, and that hanging of the giant poster was a mistake. The photo has since been removed from Genoma’s website.
Still, Hoos is angry. “They put our daughter’s face on a banner that was the size of a building,” she told CTV news. “That’s my baby. That’s my little girl and she is beautiful and precious. How dare they.“ Becca is also in her eighth month of chemotherapy for treatment for Leukemia, Hoos wrote online. She and her husband declined Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
Online, Hoos explains that she never would have given permission for her daughter to be used in the ad. “The campaign is so disparaging towards individuals with Down Syndrome that it incited an avalanche of complaints from concerned parents and disability rights activists in Spain,” she writes. “One parent is quoted in a local publication asking ‘what mother could allow her daughter to be photographed and used for this campaign?’ Not me. Never. I would never have allowed this.”
When she first learned of Genoma’s appropriation of the photo, Hoos said she felt guilty. “Until I realized I did nothing wrong,” she says. “They insulted and abused my innocent child in their pursuit of profit. They broke faith with common human decency.”
Jill Murphy, vice president and editorial director at Common Sense Media, says that posting photos online comes with some risks.
“We think of our social pages and blogs as personal and we consider ourselves owners of them — but this technology is more public than we realize. And in the fine print, we might sign away our rights of use — often unknowingly,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Possible copyright laws aside, we recommend parents and kids become more familiar with the fact that everything you post has information that is valuable to advertisers and data collectors; posting a photo of a kid identifies you as someone who might be interested in baby products, for example. At the very least, we advise parents and kids to minimize the consequences with these precautions: Use privacy settings, limit the audience of a post (only to family, for example), and think about using photo-sharing sites where you might have a little more control over who you share a photo with.”
Still, she says she understands, and shares, Hoos’ outrage. “As a parent, this is frustrating and infuriating. I can’t begin to imagine how heartbreaking this was for this mom and her family,” she says. “Under any circumstances, if a photo of my daughter was used without my permission, I would be enraged. Under these circumstances, it’s alarming and scary.”
According to Hoos’s blog, the page of images depicting Down Syndrome on the stock image site has since been shut down.
Despite the ordeal, Hoos says she does not plan to take Becca’s pictures off her blog. “Where initially I considered taking all our photos offline, deleting my social media accounts and hiding in my house for the next 10 years, now I’m determined to weather the storm,” she writes. “We will not flinch. We will not hide. My daughter is beautiful and her life is worth celebrating.”